3 outstanding day walks in the Peak District

3 irresistible long day walks in the Peak District

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When it comes to walks in the Peak District, you’re spoiled for choice. This National Park, tucked neatly between the Midlands and the cities of Sheffield and Manchester, is one of the most diverse and exciting in the UK. But unlike the Lake District or Snowdonia, it never quite seems to get the limelight despite being a gem hidden in plain sight. It’s wildly underrated, and I can’t recommend it enough for your next walking trip. Whether you like seeking out peaks, or peaceful lowland strolls, there’s something for everyone here with plenty of showstoppers to plan your routes around.

Loosely divided into the High Peaks (or Dark Peaks) and Low Peaks (or White Peaks), both areas have distinctly different characters yet feel like sisters. The High Peaks lure serious hikers and climbers with their enticing scrabbles, climbs and viewpoints. The Low Peaks charm with bucolic countryside, rolling yet surprisingly dramatic hills and deep river valleys that crash their way through the landscape. Whenever you look you’ll see great geology, vibrant purple heather, wild moorland and light dancing on the many rivers and reservoirs that are scattered across the Peak District National Park.

On a whim, we found ourselves back here a few weeks ago. It had been the best part of ten years since my last visit, in the middle of a wild wet winter. And I realised it had been far too long. The Peak District is glorious.

This landscape sings in summer, and with the enthusiasm for longer and more adventurous walks these days I was excited to get exploring. Walking in the Peak District in summer didn’t disappoint. It far exceeded my expectations, delivering walks that offered plenty of challenge for fresh legs, a stunning array of views and the chance to check out some of the most recognisable spots in this part of the country.

Our favourite long walks in the Peak District

We had just four nights in the Peaks, so wanted to pack in as much of this National Park as possible. That’s not to say we wanted to tick off destinations or ‘must do’ activities. We wanted to enjoy some highlights of the Park and as well as walks that gave us a feel for the different landscapes you’ll find here.

We tackled three long day walks varying in length between 10 miles (our Dovedale loop) and 19 miles (Kinder Scout and Mam Tor). They are a chance to explore a little of both the High Peaks and the Low Peaks, including the highest point in the Peak District. And it’s worth saying, these aren’t just three routes we picked out of nowhere – we did plenty of research on top of our previous experience exploring this area. That’s why I’d love to recommend them to you.

Here are the three walks in the Peak District I’m sharing today;

  • Kinder Scout with an excursion to Mam Tor – starting and finishing in Edale
  • A Dovedale circuit – starting and finishing in Alstonefield or Milldale
  • All the Edges: Derwent Edge, Stanage Edge and Bamford Edge – starting and finishing at the Ladybower reseroir
The path down from Edale Cross in the Peak District

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Our routes: How to navigate

I’ve shared a description of the three routes we took below.

It’s worth being super clear that to follow these you will need an Ordnance Survey map and/or the Ordnance Survey Maps app. They’re a guide to help you plan your route with a map before you head out, not step-by-step directions. My aim is to inspire you to choose your own route that’s appropriate to your level of hiking experience, fitness and the weather conditions on the day. We were really lucky to be walking during a balmy August – in cold, wet or windy weather I’d shorten these routes and avoid some exposed areas as well as those that require navigation on a bearing.

To get you started, you can download the OS Maps app for Android here and iOS here. If you prefer a printed map, like me, you’ll want the OL 1 The Peak District – Dark Peak area and OL 24 The Peak District – White Peak area. You can find them on Amazon here;

Exploring Kinder Scout – with an excursion to Mam Tor

The Route: Edale – Barber Booth – Jacobs Ladder – Edale Cross – Kinder Reservoir – William Clough – Kinder Downfall – Edale

Add an extra loop to catch the view from Mam Tor: Edale – Hollins Cross – Mam Tor – Edale

Kinder Scout? What a curious name!

Kinder Scout is an irresistible destination in the Peaks. Whilst the name is packed with intrigue, it’s no match for the peak itself. Not only is it the highest point in the National Park, but it’s also a vast plateau that offers a huge variety of views. We were blessed with good weather when enjoyed this walk, so we were lucky to see it at its very best. But I’ve no doubt it would still be good fun on cloudier days as the diverse landscapes this route traverses provide plenty of interest.

This is a long walk – around 15 miles in total, although there are options to shorten it should you prefer. The excursion to Mam Tor adds another 4 miles. I’d highly recommended if you’ve still got some energy left. It offers great views into the Hope Valley beyond and back across to Kinder Scout.

The route starts and finishes in Edale. We started and finished at Barber Booth car park but you could absolutely start from the car park centre of Edale, or the rail station which offers great connections to northern cities.

Idyllic scenes in the Noe Valley in the Peak District

To Jacobs Ladder and beyond

The first part of the walk is a gentle stroll from Barber Booth to Jacob’s Ladder along the picturesque Noe valley. On wide gravelled paths the walking is easy, and the rolling pastures of the valley – dotted with the occasional sandstone farmhouse or barn – are idyllic on a summer’s day. Jacob’s Ladder, to my naive surprise, in not in fact a ladder. I should do better research. It’s a steep, stepped path that leads you up from the valley onto the lower flanks of Kinder Scout, where it joins the Pennine Way. A pretty stone bridge marks the start of the ladder, crossing tumbling water that accompanies you for the first few turns of the path.

Once at the top you’re hit with an outstanding panoramic view back down the valley. But in my mind, the best is yet to come. You could join the Pennine Way here for swifter and more direct route to Kinder Scout. But instead we crossed over this path and headed a little further to Edale Cross, where the view really blows your mind. Here the Peaks roll away below you to their lowland fringes, with the city of Manchester glistening on the horizon. You’re on the northern-most edge of the Peaks, with northern England set out in front.

Between here and the cities beyond, there’s purple heather moorland and babbling streams and many more miles of footpaths. Marvelling somewhat at this new view we followed this path for another mile or so before hanging right, or eastwards, towards Kinder reservoir.

Crossing the Kinder River below Kinder Scout

By the waterside

This path is smaller and rolls down across the heather and then up through sheep-scattered pasture towards the reservoir. The northern flanks of Kinder Scout loom high on your right, looking delightfully dramatic. You’ll slowly start to bank along the edge of the reservoir after crossing the Kinder River, walking through dappled woodland until you reach William Clough, my favourite part of this walk.

The Clough rises up from the banks of the reservoir towards the Pennine Way and an easy route up on the Kinder Scout. The Clough is a deep cutting made by the streams the pour off the moorland here, heading rapidly down towards the reservoir. In midsummer, it’s lush with green ferns and bright plum heather, the stony path easy to follow. There’s only one or two wet feet as you track back and forth across the running water. At the top, you reach a high pass where you rejoin the stone-paved path that leads you to the other highlight of this walk – Kinder Downfall.

Purple heather in William Clough, Peak District

Kinder Downfall – the showstopper

You won’t find a trig point or obvious peak on Kinder Scout. But all roads lead to Kinder Downfall, a spectacular bit of geology perched on the northern edge of the plateau. The name technically refers to the waterfall where the River Kinder dramatically plunges some thirty meters down into the valley below. But the rocky area, ripe for scrambling, that surrounds the river as it approaches the precipice is spellbinding. It’s suprisingly easy to reach and explore on foot with a little common sense, and well worth a stop to enjoy.

The rocky waterfall of Kinder Downfall on Kinder Scout

From Kinder Downfall, you’ve got two routes of a similar length to return back into the valley. Continue on the Pennine Way and you’ll return to Jacobs Ladder where you can head down. Or, provided it is relatively dry underfoot (it is heavy peat bog on top of Kinder Scout, so bear this in mind) you can follow a small path that skirts along the river and across the plateau towards Crowden Tower. This is what we did.

It’s peaceful and picturesque route, well away from most other walkers, but not the easiest to follow without GPS (so have that Maps app handy). Approaching Crowden Tower, fantastic views of the Vale of Edale open up below, a rural paradise quite different to the northern side of this peak. We took a steep but easy to follow path down off Kinder Scout from Grindslow Knoll and back into Edale.

Here you can very happily wrap up your walk with a pint in the local pub or even a cream tea – you’ll find a few spots to put your feet up. But if your legs have got a few more miles in them, there are two more excellent viewpoints you can access in a walk of just over an hour.

Extending your walk to Mam Tor

Just east of Edale station on the main road is a footpath that directs you to Hollins Cross. A wide path takes you quickly away from the roadside and into sheep pasture where it climbs steadily but not too steeply to this low pass perched between the Edale and Hope valleys. There’s an endlessly interesting 360 degree view here, but it’s worth taking the gentle path from here up to nearby Mam Tor for a view into Perry Dale as well – giving you a real feel for the landscape of the High Peaks. A choice of narrow but not tricky footpaths takes you back into Edale or Barber Booth via Harden Clough to round out the route.

View of Mam Tor and Edale Valley
View of Edale from Grindslow Knoll. Mam Tor is the highest point to the right.

A Dovedale day walk

Route: Alstonefield – Milldale – Tissington – Thorpe – Dovedale – Milldale – Alstonefield

If like us, you love challenging walks then the chances are that you’ll be naturally drawn to the High Peaks with it’s, well, High Peaks. But ignore the Low Peaks at your peril. This extensive part of the Peak District National Park is no less joyful, interesting and delightfully diverse.

This walk shows off some of the highlights of the south-western part of the park. Dovedale is a spectacular and unexpected valley that cuts through the landscape, and this route takes in more than just riverside. We’re thrown in an unexpected scramble, elegant country estate, charming village or two and a converted railway line.

It all starts in Alstonefield

Whilst you can start and finish this route in Milldale, I’d highly recommend starting and finishing in Alstonefield instead. Firstly, there’s a quiet spot with free parking and public toilets in the centre of the village. But secondly, you can enjoy a bucolic stroll through this picture-perfect place, past the historic church and through pastures down to the hamlet of Milldale at the head of Dovedale. Following this route on foot gives you a chance to see Dovedale in its striking setting in the landscape – a deep chasm cut into the rolling fields around, lush with vegetation.

After a steep descent, you’ll find yourself amongst the pretty cottages of Milldale, with the sound of rushing water beyond. A small stone bridge invites you across the river ready for a plot twist – we’re not off to explore Dovedale just yet. Take the small path directly ahead that heads immediately back uphill in the direction of Newton Grange. You’ll find the footpath quickly becomes a farm track that’s easy to follow and winds it’s way through this scattered selection of farms.

Cows in pasture above Dovedale

A railway adventure

A turn on your left takes you back onto a small path through a couple of fields down to the A515. Cross over and take a surprising descent down from the road on the Tissington Trail. A 13 mile stretch of converted railway line, the Trail weaves its way through the Low Peaks offering an accessible path that’s perfect for walking, cycling and running.

We picked up the Trail in the direction of Tissington, where the path takes a wide loop around the village. You can either follow the Trail all the way, or take an exit just before you reach Tissington (where a small road crosses the line) to approach the village green along a country lane, and then through fields and a shaded churchyard. Here, Tissington Hall is the star of the show, a grand country home built of honey-coloured stone. But the rest of the village isn’t to be missed – it might be small but it’s perfectly formed. Having enjoyed a quick snack break here (highly recommended), we hopped back on the Tissington Trail here and trundled on to Thorpe.

Expect the unexpected

Leaving behind the Trail, we ambled along the road for a short while through the village of Thorpe. It’s not the most remarkable of places – apart from the excellently-named Thorpe Cloud, our next destination. Much as Jacobs Ladder is not a ladder, Thorpe Cloud is (unsurprisingly) not a cloud. It’s a steep, cone-shaped hill that stands proud to the north of the village, standing out in a landscape of gently rolling hills. It’s a short but challenging climb with a surprise scrambling section towards the top, offering a fantastic panoramic view.

Small weir along Dovedale, Peak District

Heading back down off the Cloud (you could skip the climb you prefer), we rounded its northernmost point to find ourselves in – picnic central.

Yes, we were expecting the start of Dovedale, but where the river emerges from the gorge we had not realised that the little riverside plain makes the most perfect spot for families to enjoy the water and walkers to enjoy a lunch stop. The shallow water is inviting and child (and big kid) friendly in the summer months and lots of folks stop here for a swim and a play. But head just a few hundred meters along the path heading upriver, and you’re in another world.

It’s quieter, with just a few families and dogs splashing – and plenty of other walkers. The river has plunged into a deep gorge that it shares with a multiplicity of trees and vegetation, and it feels cool and calm and almost tropical. It reminded me a lot of the deep river gorges that are ubiquitous in the south-west of France like the Gorges du Tarn, not necessarily so deep but just as enticing, especially on a cool day.

The path runs alongside the river, twisting and turning for about two and a half miles until it returns you to peaceful Milldale. There’s plenty to catch your eye as you walk along here, from fabulous caves alongside the path to wildlife whenever there’s a quiet moment. Dovedale is well worth a visit – for the contrast to the High Peaks, but also for its unique atmosphere.

From Milldale it’s a relatively short walk back to the car – although there are a few enticing spots for a late pub lunch or refreshing ice cream en route.

Walking on edge: Exploring the Edges of Ladybower reservoir and Hope Valley

Route: Ladybower reservoir – Derwent Edge – Moscar and Moscar Moor – Stanage Edge – Bamford Moor – Bamford Edge – Ladybower reservoir

If you need further proof of how diverse the landscapes of the Peak District are, this walk is for you. Just a few miles from the city of Sheffield, it feels more than a million, and offers outstanding views without too many big climbs. It’s worth noting that some of this route requires a little off-piste walking – so I’d recommend it only in good weather and if you are comfortable navigating with a compass or GPS. In August, this is was pretty easy and made it possible to create a circular route that took us back to our starting point.

I’ve given this walk rather a dramatic name – but be reassured! If, like me, the word ‘Edge’ makes your stomach drop, do not be afraid. These are not the extremely narrow paths that skirt cliff faces in the Alps or precipitous drops that disappear off the side of ski runs. A British edge is somewhat tamer, although no less interesting to explore. Whilst I’ll always encourage folks to take great care walking paths near edges, know that these paths are very wide, mostly very easy to walk, only have a short drop on one side at most to gentle rock formations.

We started and finished our walk at the Heatherdene car park on Ladybower reservoir – all day parking costs a couple of pounds, there’s plenty of space and clean public toilets.

Gateway on Derwent Edge, Peak District

Up on to the Moors

From the car park, it’s a short jaunt along the road (there’s a wide footpath) to where it joins the A57. Take a left turn and after a few hundred meters take a footpath on the right that winds up through dappled woodland and up onto the moors and the top of Grainfoot Clough. You’re ankle-deep in glorious purple heather here, with sandy paths like yellow-brick roads leading off in every direction. You can either head straight on, or take a little detour to your left and explore a little of Derwent Edge with its fine views back down over the reservoir. With a little scrambling, we found a short circuit to Salt Cellar, a magnificent rock formation, and then back to the Clough, although you could also try an out and back along this path to Back Tor.

Next, you’ll want to take the path that leads down into Grainfoot Clough and towards Moscar, a little cluster of farms in the valley. There are lots of sheep on this stretch of moorland but keep your eyes peeled for wildlife too – we spotted Grouse here for the first time. Looping around Moscar and crossing the A57 once more will bring you to a new path signposted the ‘Sheffield Country Walk’. Don’t let this confuse you, you’re not off on a city stroll! Half a mile or so of gentle uphill will take you up onto the ridge that becomes Stanage Edge, one of the most recognisable views in the Peak District. A wide winding path welcomes you along past rocky outcrops as a view of the stunning geology unfolds in front of you.

View of Stanage Edge in the Hope Valley

The Edge of glory

You can follow this path along Stanage Edge as far as you’d like, but we took the first major path that appears on your right that descends off the moor, after a couple of miles. By this time, you’ll have already had plenty of opportunities to soak up the scenery and views of the Hope Valley beyond. Don’t forget to pause and turn around occasionally as you go down to take in the view – Stanage Edge is best viewed from below.

As you descend into the bracken, take the footpath that returns the way you have come but along the foot of the rocky outcrops. On a dry day, you might see a few scramblers and climbers taking advantage of the boulders here. And it’s here that we introduce a little off-piste.

A mile or so of moorland separates you here from the main path to Bamford Edge. So if you’re confident navigating by compass or GPS and the conditions are good, set a bearing for Bamford Edge or just before and pick your way carefully across the heather. It’s actually a rather idyllic spot, with your goal location on the horizon, but take your time as it can be a little uneven underfoot. With luck, you’ll have joined a major path again shortly.

A right turn takes you to the top of Bamford Edge. More than a little blustery (having walked a significant part of this route in both August and January, I can confirm it does appear to always be a bit windy here), the views here are truly spectacular and well worth allowing yourself a little time to enjoy. Aside from the intrigue of this rocky outcrop itself, you’ll be able to look back down over the Ladybower Reservoir and Derwent Edge in the distance, as well as a whole lot more of the Peaks.

3 outstanding day walks in the Peak District

Here the major part of the day’s walk is done. Take your pick of crisscrossing footpaths that return back to the valley bottom by the reservoir. We took the path leading directly to the Heatherdene car park.

So there you go, three epic day walks in the Peak District.

Which ones pique your curiosity? And do you have any outstanding suggestions for future trips? I’d love to hear from your in the comments below or in our Facebook group.

Looking for more adventurous walking routes in the UK and beyond? Check out my walking resources here.

Alice
girlwithasaddlebag@gmail.com
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